A good night's rest is the secret to having a productive, healthy, and happy day for kids and adults. Here are five ways to create a calming bedtime routine that sets you all up for better sleep.
Getting enough quality sleep - seven or more hours per night - is one of the healthiest things you can do for your mind and body. Proper rest gives the body time to repair itself. It boosts brain function, strengthens the immune system, improves heart health, reduces stress, and improves your mood. But getting enough ZZZs is a challenge for most families, what with dinner time, tv-watching, smart phone-scrolling, and little ones' nighttime antics. (Every parent has heard, "Just one more bedtime story!" thousands of times).
So, what's the secret to naturally falling and staying asleep? Consistency and repetition. Going to bed around the same time every night and creating a routine prepares you for the best sleep. "Science supports the fact that we need to down-regulate in the evenings to strengthen our circadian rhythms, the internal biological clock that fluctuates within a 24-hour cycle," says sleep expert Mollie Eastman, host of the podcast Sleep is a Skill. Research has shown that instituting a consistent bedtime routine is beneficial, especially for children. And it works for grownups too. "The main goal with an evening routine is to switch over to a PM mode that calms your mind and body, getting you ready for sleep. Simple nightly habits elicit a kind of Pavlovian response and tells your mind it's time for bed. Think of it as sleep training," says Eastman.
When should the wind-down begin?
"There's a step-by-step process for switching into sleep mode that is part of our family's lifestyle," says on-air parenting and lifestyle expert and host of The Breakdown with Bethany on MomCaveTV.com, Bethany Braun-Silva, mom of a ten and 7-year-old. "My kids are super active throughout the day, so it takes a little while for them to wind down and go to sleep. We usually begin our routine about 30 minutes before their bedtime, which is around 9 pm. You don't want to drag it out because then it comes playtime. Keep the goal in your sights: to peacefully prepare them for sleep."
Step 1: Dim the lights
"The aim of your nighttime routine is to set up a relaxing, sleep-friendly atmosphere by removing bright light, cooling the temperature, and calming your activity," says Eastman. "One of the most impactful levers of your circadian rhythm is light, so you want to start dimming the lights in your home at least 90 minutes before going to bed. This triggers your body to produce more natural melatonin, the hormone that helps you fall asleep."
Step 2: Put away phones and turn off the TV
Research shows that blue light from screens is a huge melatonin blocker. It also just amps you up when you need to chill out. "You want to lower your cortisol levels, the body's stress response, before bedtime," says Eastman. "This is the time for relaxing and gently lulling the kids (and yourself!) to sleep. It is not the time for texting, playing video games, watching something scary or action-packed on television, or making to-do lists and finishing last-minute work." Setting aside phones and screens is much easier said than done, however. "Sometimes I'll even tell a white lie and say that the WiFi went out, just to avoid a huge battle," says Braun-Silva. (A Kirei bonus: setting aside screens and distractions allows you and your family to really be present with each other at the end of the day).
Step 3: Bath time & teeth brushing
"Familiar rituals around hygiene are incredibly important and calming, helping kids and adults feel safe and secured, and prepared for bed," says Eastman. "Don't rush kids through teeth brushing or bath time; slow and steady makes for better sleep." A warm bath is also conducive to quality rest, she adds, "because the skin temperature becomes higher and the core temperature is lowered slightly, which primes the body for quality rest."
"Cleansing is therapeutic, and there's something about a warm bath that's calming - washing the day away and getting clean before getting into bed feels good," says Braun-Silva, "and for me, using nice body washes and lotions puts me in the right headspace to relax." (MyKirei by KAO Nourishing Body Wash with Yuzu & Rice Water and MyKirei by KAO Soothing Peony Milky Lotion add a little aromatherapy and calming self-care to a bath time ritual).
"Fun soaps incentivize and motivate my kids to wash up," says Braun-Silva. (MyKirei by KAO Yuzu Flower Foam Hand Wash dispenses a foamy flower into the palm of a kid's hands, while the Paw Print Foam Hand Wash pumps out the foam in the shape of an adorable puppy paw print).
Step 4: Bedtime stories and bonding time
"Little kids love to read the same books over and over," says Braun-Silva, "and I think it calms anxiety because they know what to expect. It's soothing and comforting. And, snuggling and reading to your kids at bedtime is such a great way to connect with your children. If I'm reading a story aloud, then I can't be doing or thinking about anything else. This is our special, quiet time together. When you read a book with your kids before bed, you're sharing an experience, and we're all going to this imaginary place together."
Step 5: Just "One More Thing..."
Every child plays the "One More Thing" game to stay awake a little bit longer. ("Just one more drink of water?" "Just one more bedtime story?"). "That 'One More Thing' can get really overwhelming, and since bedtime is all about consistency, you don't want to always give into it," says Braun-Silva. "I try to get ground rules that also give them a sense of comfort. For example, I'll say, I'll leave this cup of water right here by your bed,' or 'I know we have so much fun reading books, but let's save this one for tomorrow night. I'll leave it right here on the night table.'"
How Many Hours of Sleep are Enough: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/how-many-hours-of-sleep-are-enough/faq-20057898
The Health Benefits of Sleep: https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/healthy-living/mental-health-and-relationships/get-enough-sleep
Going to sleep at the same time: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-time-should-i-go-to-bed/
Children sleep better when they have a nightly routine: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150507114316.htm
Bright light suppresses melatonin: https://spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2019/cg_8.html